Ballgowns @ V&A


This year has been full of fashion exhibitions and the Victoria & Albert Museum has long been one of the best to hold displays in the field of fashion. Right now the show on everyone’s lips is ‘Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950’, a luxurious treat for the fashion connoisseur.

The exhibition, which comprises of 60 dresses is presented in the new fashion gallery and showcases only British designers in our celebratory year of the Diamond Jubilee and hosts of the Olympic Games. The story of the perfect British ballgown begins with Norman Hartnell’s designs for the Queen’s coronation in 1953 and ends with the full length gowns of celebrities worn on the runway and at award ceremonies. The dresses encapsulate each decade from the 50s, with the lower level celebrating events like the lavish debutante ball to royal state occasions. The gowns are displayed chronologically so we can see how the occasionwear has evolved over time, although to my mind, the changes are not at all drastic and much of the early collection could easily be worn down the runway today. Among the display are dresses from Zandra Rhodes, Ossie Clark, Bellville Sasson and Mary Quant and the V&A also brings us an insight into the life of each period by also featuring jewellery magazines and accessories.

On the upper level, we are shown more recent designs from the likes of Hussein Chalayan and Mary Katrantzou. Some of the clothes here have been sent straight from the catwalks of Erdem and Roland Mouret, while Gareth Pugh has made a leather dress especially for the exhibition which is covered in silver. Here we are shown work from 30 current designers from Jonathan Saunders and Alexander McQueen to John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood. We are also shown projected images of the clothes on the domed alcove ceilings, shot by photographer David Hughes.

While this is more of a snapshot of British design rather than its greatest hits, the show gives us a look into the world of dressing for grand occasions and the infamous ball. Unfortunately, I left feeling a little sad – it is rare to be able to wear such a gown today unless you are walking down the red carpet, which, let’s face it, the vast minority of us are unlikely to do – I am envious of those who are able to wear these beautiful dresses on a regular basis. Nevertheless, the display brings the perfect touch of glamour as we make our way from Summer into Autumn.

Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 is on display at the V&A until 6 January 2013

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, ReOrient and Suitcase Magazine. Lizzy is also curator of Arab Women Artists Now - AWAN 2018 (London).

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